More roads & no cycling

6th January 2020

No thanks not another motorway
Motorway - No Thanks, by JL57, Licence CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Prominent in Andrew Jones's election materials were photos of him marching against the so-called relief road - a bypass which was promoted by some of his Conservative colleagues.

Mr Jones wasn't instrumental in defeating the so-called relief road. It was a community campaign driven by Chris Kitson and Save the Nidd Gorge. Still, at least Jones jumped on the bandwagon in the end.

So when he is in his Harrogate & Knaresborough constituency, he's against destroying the countryside to make way for new traffic jams. But what about when he is voting in Westminster?

Tory plans for ever more congestion & pollution with huge road-building fund

The Conservatives (or factcheckUK) have plans to waste a whopping £28.8bn building new roads (p27 of their manifesto).

New roads do not solve congestion problems, they exacerbate them.

Professor of Transport Policy at the Technical University of Delft, Bert van Wee: 'Building more roads is in any case senseless. It is often the first reaction from ministers who want to look as though they are doing something. Of course you do sometimes have to make roads wider, and re-work junctions, but if you think you're going to solve the problem of congestion like that, you're wrong.'

New roads generate more traffic, which spills over onto existing roads and junctions. Congestion and air pollution get worse. Greenhouse gas emissions rise.

Australia is on fire. Jakarta, Indonesia, is under water. Areas of Yorkshire were flooded during the election campaign. And this is the response of the Johnson government: it's worse than doing nothing, it's actively planning to increase our emissions, and to intensify the climate crisis.

Tories cut cycling budget to next-to-nothing

Walking and cycling are the great solutions to so many of our problems, along with public transport. Active travel tackles congestion, air pollution, and global heating. Building physical exercise into the daily routine helps prevent obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and heart problems.

And what is the response of the Johnson government? To cut the budget for cycling to almost nothing - from an inadequate £7 per person per year, to a derisory £1.50. It is wrong.

Andrew Jones in Harrogate & Andrew Jones in Westminster

When he is in Harrogate & Knaresborough, Andrew Jones portrays himself as a champion of the battle against the so-called relief road.

When he is in Westminster, Andrew Jones will be voting for a huge and damaging road-building programme, ensuring that other towns around the country have so-called relief roads inflicted on them.

There is zero chance of Andrew Jones taking a principled stand. In my opinion, his priority is getting himself another ministerial post, not standing up for his constituents or what is right for the country.

He is the same person when he is in Harrogate and when he is in Westminster, but he is virtually unrecognisable.

A lesson from Australia

Most of us have seen TV pictures of Australian PM Scott Morrison getting out of his air-conditioned 4x4, to try to force handshakes on unwilling firefighters and victims of the disaster unfolding over there. There's contempt for a politician who still largely denies or minimises the facts of global heating.

The lesson the Conservatives should draw is this.

Dishonest propaganda might work to an extent and for a while. Maybe people don't 'give a toss' what you say on social media, in the charming words of Dominic Raab; perhaps you can exaggerate (lie about) the number of new hospitals you're going to build, and get away with it; if 50,000 new nurses sounds like an impressive figure, maybe you can use that number even if 19,000 of them aren't new at all but already working in the health service; apparently you can tell people there'll be no paperwork for goods crossing a new customs border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, even though that's precisely what you've just negotiated.

But the atmosphere doesn't care how clever you think you are. You can recruit two, four, six, or a hundred Antipodean social media whizz kids, but they can't change the concentration of CO2 in the air.

Johnson has already had a taste of facing up to Yorkshire people whose houses have been flooded, and it didn't look as though he enjoyed it much. There's more of that to come anyway - our emissions over recent decades have ensured that.

But next time Johnson or one of his colleagues is facing victims of the climate crisis, he should be able to say that he has begun to tackle the root cause, with serious measures which are proportionate to what is an emergency.

As things stand, he and his party look like being the ones who made things worse; the ones who embarked on a massive road-building programme, when it was blindingly obvious that it would exacerbate our problems; the ones who failed to see or implement the solutions.